at-risk non-traditional students

5 innovative strategies to support non-traditional students


These strategies can help colleges and universities keep this fast-growing student group on track for success.

At-risk non-traditional students are less likely to engage with their peers than are non-traditional students who are not at risk–35 percent compared to 68 percent.

Only 3 percent of at-risk non-traditional students strongly agreed that they have friends at school, just 5 percent said they feel socially connected, and only 8 percent said they felt like they belong at their school.

This group of students also reported experiencing low levels of academic support. Less than half said they: believe faculty are available to help when they need it; feel that they have a good relationship with their academic adviser; and were satisfied with their experiences when they used tutoring services and/or academic advising.

Forty percent of at-risk non-traditional students said they emotional well-being is a challenge. Nineteen percent said they feel “happy” at school, compared to 51 percent of non-traditional students who are not at risk.

To meet the challenges that come with supporting at-risk non-traditional students, schools can use five strategies to address key needs:

1. Identify and then seek feedback on campus services from at-risk non-traditional students. Some of these students may not be aware of services, and they will require education. But, especially for those who have used services and came away with a negative perception, starting a dialogue with them may uncover opportunities for updates and improvements.

2. Help them build connections and relationships on campus. At-risk students need to feel like they belong on campus, and that other students are sharing some of the same experiences. But, they may not know how to connect with their peers. Events and activities bringing these students together can help foster those relationships.

3. Be persistent and consistent in communications. It may take more time to reach at-risk non-traditional students and get them engaged with services and activities on campus. Finding a way to get in front of them regularly and using the communications channels they prefer is key.

4. Think broader with career counseling support. At-risk non-traditional students may feel disconnected from the benefits their education can bring them. Working with them to break through negative feelings and define goals and opportunities may serve as a powerful motivator.

5. Educate students on affordable materials/learning solutions. It is particularly important that at-risk nontraditional students find the right support that they can access in the places and times that work best for them. As a population that spends less time on campus and is less engaged with their peers, they may find digital learning tools and online solutions valuable, for example.

Laura Ascione